Reading comics retailer Brian Hibbs’ reaction to comics retailer Chris Butcher’s reaction to Diamond’s de-listing of a lot of Viz’s back catalog has me thinking about monopolies, or at least businesses perceived to be monopolies.
The thing that strikes me is that objections to Diamond’s recent decisions (and I’m in total sympathy with those objections, don’t get me wrong) stem in large part from the perception that Diamond is behaving in ways that suggest that the company cares less about the medium of comics than the salability of product. (If I’m reading Tom Spurgeon’s piece on the subject correctly, I think that’s kind of what he’s saying as well, or at least that emphasis on short-term gain is limiting and damaging to the comics industry as a whole.) In a world where Diamond wasn’t perceived to be the only comics distribution game in town, that wouldn’t be a problem, because there would be competitors on a similar scale that would be able to fill whatever gaps emerge.
But since Diamond is perceived (not unfairly) as the only meaningful comics distribution game in town, well, then, the only meaningful comics distribution game in town has a certain responsibility to care about comics as a medium, which means making more examples of the medium available, not less. If Diamond wants to have a stranglehold on comics distribution, that stranglehold should be as tender and loving as possible. There should be a dial tone when you pick up the phone to call someone. The train should arrive at the station on time. If a retailer wants to order a volume of the final, unfinished masterpiece of one of the greatest cartoonists who ever lived, then the near-monopoly comics distributor should say “It will ship Tuesday” instead of “You should have stocked up when we had our fire sale.”
So when Diamond behaves like a business that doesn’t exist in a relative vacuum, making decisions that may result in limited availability of non-mainstream new product and big chunks of back stock, they look like they’re abusing the power that their status as a relative monopoly has afforded them. And in a niche market with a very dedicated audience, that is a very, very bad perception to create.
Also, de-listing Iou Kuroda’s Sexy Voice and Robo is just stupid.